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We hear a lot about cholesterol today; some health advisers tell us some forms of cholesterol are good for us, while other advocate a completely cholesterol-free diet, saying our bodies make enough on their own. Dietary cholesterol intake is a personal choice, however considering the link between high-cholesterol foods (which are only found in animal foods) and health issues, it only makes sense to consume a low-cholesterol, or cholesterol-free diet.

In fact, Harvard Health advises many different plant-based sources as the best way to lower high cholesterol, with some of the top sources being: beans, nuts, seeds, barley, oats, apples, pears, soy (non-GMO), and many different vegetables.

Whole food sources of plants contain no cholesterol, which makes them the perfect replacement to animal foods in the diet. Since one of the main concerns people have when adopting a plant-based diet is “Where do I get my protein?”, it’s helpful to know you can adequately meet your protein needs without turning to milk, eggs, fish, cheese, yogurt, beef, chicken,or turkey. In fact, there are many different foods that contain protein in a plant-based diet that don’t even have to be combined to form a complete protein.

Dr. Michael Gregor even explains that most vegans appear to have healthier bones and higher blood protein levels than most omnivores due to the rich variety of protein-rich foods in the diet that are not acidic to the bones and rest of the body like animal sources are.

Some sources of plant-based protein, however, have special cholesterol-lowering powers. See if you can incorporate some of these sources into your meals and check out all the other benefits you’ll gain along the way:

1. Quinoa

Quinoa is a well-loved plant-based food and its also a complete source of dietary protein. It contains all essential amino acids, and is technically grain-free. Like most other seeds, quinoa is bursting with nutrition. It’s a fantastic source of iron (which makes it a great meat alternative) and it also boosts a large amount of fiber to reduce high-cholesterol. Fiber binds with fat and cholesterol in the blood, which sweeps it out and in return aids in heart health. Try making quinoa for breakfast as a porridge, mixing it into baked goods, using it atop salads at lunch, make Vegan Sloppy Joes, or making a delicious quinoa pilaf.

Quinoa Nutrition Stats:

1  cup cooked quinoa contains: 8 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, 0 grams of sugar, 15 percent of your daily iron requirements, 0 cholesterol, 4 grams of fat, 19 percent of your daily folate (a B vitamin)  requirements, 30 percent of your daily magnesium requirements, and 58 percent of your daily manganese requirements.

Try out this Roasted Acorn Squash Stuffed With Quinoa Mushroom Pilaf or this Toasted Quinoa Vegetable Stacks with Green Goddess Dressing, which are both amazingly delicious, full of fiber, and boost a nice dose of complete protein.

2. Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are such a great food for a variety of purposes. These tiny, tasteless seeds offer so much nutrition to benefit your health in many different ways. Chia seeds are a well-known source of B vitamins, omega 3 fatty acids, iron, and calcium, which help support energy and metabolism, along with bone and heart health. They’re also a good source of dietary protein for such a small serving. In terms of lowering cholesterol, chia seeds contain large amounts of soluble fiber, which is the best kind of fiber for lowering cholesterol.

Chia Seed Nutrition Stats: 

One ounce (2 tablespoons) of chia seeds contains: 9 grams of fat (mostly from omega 3 fatty acids), 11 grams of fiber, 0 grams of sugar, 12 percent of your daily iron requirements, 17 percent of your daily calcium requirements, 5.5 grams of protein, 30 percent of your daily manganese requirements, and 27 percent of your daily phosphorus requirements.

Chia seeds are easy enough to fit into smoothies but also make delicious desserts and baked goods. Try them out in one of these recipes for a great snack, dessert, or even breakfast: Cacao Maca Energizing Smoothie, Crunchy Chia Chocolate With Lucuma, Maca, Vanilla, and Cashews, or French Toast Chia Power Pudding.

3. Hemp 

Hemp protein is one of the best plant-based proteins because it’s chock-full of all essential amino acids, along with iron, magnesium, omega 3’s, and also fiber. Hemp protein is also very alkaline, which is indicated by it’s natural green hues. Hemp seeds can be used interchangeably for hemp protein and can easily be added to a variety of meals.

In terms of cholesterol, hemp contains a large dose of soluble and insoluble fiber, so it not only reduces cholesterol, but also helps with regularity, another important factor in maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.

Hemp Seed Nutrition Stats: 

Three tablespoons of high-fiber hemp protein powder contains: 4 grams of fat, 12 grams of fiber, 1 grams of sugar, 0 grams of cholesterol, 11 grams of protein, 25 percent of your daily iron requirements, 15 percent of your daily zinc requirements, and 35 percent of your daily magnesium requirements.

Try out some hemp seeds or hemp protein in one of these delicious, cholesterol-friendly recipes: Jujube Raspberry and Hemp Seed Oatmeal, Raw Hemp Chia Seed Bars, Hemp Seed, Cacao Nib, and Dried Cherry Cookies, Creamy Hemp Pesto, or a Mango and Hemp Smoothie.

4. Edamame

Soy gets a lot of bad rap, but edamame is one of the healthiest forms of soy you can eat. Essentially just boiled green soybeans, these shelled soybeans offer a deliciously sweet flavor, along with a rich dose of complete and cholesterol-lowering benefits. They’re also easy to toss into salads, stir-fries, and any entree of your choosing.

Concerned about soy? You may want to reconsider; more research supports the use of non-GMO soy than studies that oppose the use of it. The few studies that gave soy its bad reputation were very small studies and didn’t include extensive, long-term data. Other studies show that soy has been found to reduce high-cholesterol, along with lower the risk of cancer.

Edamame Nutrition Stats:

One cup of frozen, shelled edamame contains: 6 grams of fat, 6 grams of fiber, 3 grams of sugar, 0 grams of cholesterol, 11 grams of protein, 14 percent of your daily iron requirements, 89 percent of your daily folate requirements, and 19 percent of your daily Vitamin C requirements.

Try out some edamame this week in: Oil-free Kale Edamame Hummus, Sesame Ginger Cucumber Noodles with Mint and Edamame or boil some for a nice healthy, afternoon snack!

5. Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds are another wealth of  protein, iron, zinc,  and omega 3 fatty acids. They also contain more protein per serving than beef or any other animal food! They’re low on the glycemic index, rich in minerals like magnesium, iron, and potassium, and are even alkaline-forming, indicated by their natural green hue (which houses the chlorophyll found in pumpkin seeds.)

Pumpkin seeds benefit blood cholesterol levels by boosting HDL (good) cholesterol due to their anti-inflammatory and heart-healthy benefits. They’ve also been found helpful to reduce high blood pressure and high blood sugar in individuals with diabetes due to their high amounts of healthy fats and magnesium. 

Pumpkin Seed Nutritional Stats:

One quarter cup of pumpkin seeds contains roughly: 13 grams of fat, 10 grams of protein,  2 grams of fiber, 0 grams of sugar, 0 grams of cholesterol, 73 percent of your daily manganese requirements, 47 percent of your daily copper requirements, 15 percent of your daily iron requirements, and 47 percent of your daily magnesium requirements.

Try using a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds in this delicious variety of recipes: The Glow Bowl: Baked Sweet Potatoes with Pesto Pasta, Tomatoes, and Pumpkin Seeds,  Zucchini Pasta with Pumpkin Seeds and Garlic, or this Superfood Salad – Sprouting Broccoli, Chickpeas, Kale, Sprouts, and Seeds.

Image Source: Toasted Quinoa Vegetables Stacks with Green Goddess Dressing